By Katie KuykendallNew York MagazineA few weeks ago, I received a text message from my husband, Dr. William Riggs, from a friend of his.
We exchanged a few brief messages.
Then we were both invited to a screening of a new film that the filmmaker, the great Dr. Joseph Antonetti, had just premiered in Manhattan.
We both jumped in.
A film that Dr. Antonetti had produced for the Smithsonian.
It was about the discovery of the pygmy ant.
“I love this film,” I said, “but I don’t know how to make it humane.”
“I don’t think it’s humane,” he replied.
“It’s not humane.”
“How about this?”
“How are we going to educate people?” he replied, with a smile.
“You see, we’re doing it all by ourselves.”
A group of students from the Bronx University, who are known as “the PETA school,” walked through the film with us, learning to make a pygminess puppet and to write a song for it.
“They’re all in their first year, they’re learning from their first teacher, and they’re all going to learn a lot from you,” Dr. Riggs told me, referring to the students.
They were the students of the PETA School.
And, it turned out, their teacher was a man named Dr. Charles C. Johnson.
“Charles was an early adopter,” Dr Riggs said, noting that he took his first child from birth to preschool, and that his first-grade students are among the most diverse in the nation.
And they’re also among the students at the Bronx School.
“We’re not talking about a group of kids who are from different ethnicities,” Dr Johnson said.
“But we’re talking about the entire PETA family.”
The Bronx School, as it’s known to students, has a “principles” section, and the school’s “Principles of Humane Education” are listed in the school catalog.
In fact, the school has the distinction of being the first in the United States to adopt the American Academy of Pediatrics’ “Princess of Humane Studies” standard.
“What’s great about the Bronx is that you get to see the other side of it,” Dr Sondra D. Davenport, the Bronx school’s principal, told me.
“And it’s the way the curriculum is laid out.
I’m going to talk about it in this video.”
In the video, which you can watch below, Dr Davenports talks about the importance of “the arts” in shaping the children’s minds, and how PETA has done the same thing.
“When we look at a classroom, we look to the arts, and what’s most effective for them is an integrated arts program,” she said.
She then described the curriculum as “a set of principles that is based on our experience in the Bronx.”
The “principle of the arts” is based, in part, on the ideas of psychologist and educator Edward S. Klein, a founding principal of the School of Education at the University of Chicago, who said that a curriculum that is inclusive, holistic, and in sync with the needs of the student, will have an effect on how well students learn.
“If the curriculum reflects the real world, and you get the student to see things that they may not have seen before, they’ll do better,” Dr Davonson said.
The PETA curriculum has also inspired the creation of a website, which, by Dr Darnings own admission, is a “learning engine,” which includes the school, the PTA, the faculty, and students.
PETA is also promoting a book, The Art of Humane Teaching, by Charles Riggs and Dr. Johnson, that explains “the basics” of humane education.
And this past spring, the organization released a new, educational book, a “Guide to the Science of Humane Ethics,” which is available for free at the PACT bookstore.
The “Guide” is also available online.
And now, here’s what the PATORA school has to say about the film, which it calls “the most important film we’ve made.”
Dr. Tasha Williams: The PATORI curriculum has three basic components: (1) the concept of the humane, or the ethical, or even the scientific approach to teaching; (2) a set of rules that we use in the classroom to guide students through the process; and (3) a process of self-discipline.
The purpose of this process is to teach students to become compassionate, empathic, and responsible for themselves and others.
We have three steps in this process: the first is to create a humanistic, moral, and humane world view.
Then the second step is to work with students